by Steven Ertelt
November 14, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — The South Korean government finished questioning embattled embryonic stem cell research scientist Hwang Woo-suk on Tuesday. Hwang, who has been charged with embezzling public and private research dollars, told the court he could not prove how all of the money was spent.
Prosecutors asked Hwang Tuesday if he had receipts showing the cost of purchases associated with his successful cloning of a dog and failed cloning of a mammoth.
"I don’t have any data that can prove it," Hwang said.
He said he didn’t have receipts to show where the money went that he used to clone an Afghan hound called Snuppy, the world’s first cloned dog. Hwang indicated his team used some of the funds to purchase dogs from dealers.
Hwang also said that part of the funding for the cloning experiments came from a major South Korean electronics firm that backed his efforts to try to clone a mammoth from frozen cells. He previously said some of the funds came from the Russian mafia for the questionable cloning experiments.
Hwang told the court in July that he spent more than $1 million in corporate donations on "peripheral activities related to research." At that time, he indicated that he obtained three samples of mammoth tissues from glaciers and tried to thaw them three times for cloning but failed.
In a late October hearing, he admitted he covered up the intent of the expenses in reports.
"Some of the money was spent in contacting the Russia Mafia as we tried to clone mammoths," Hwang said. "But you can’t say that, so we expensed it as money for cows for experiment."
Prosecutors have said that Hwang misspent $2.9 million in state funds and private donations, some of which went into a personal bank account. Other money is alleged to have gone to paying reporters for favorable coverage and expensive trips and gifts for other scientists.
However, he denied those charges and said money only went to research purposes. Hwang said paying for expenses for his colleagues and research materials added up.
"Do you know how hard it is to secure four or five animal ovaries at butcher shops? You need to keep the workers there happy," he said, according to Reuters.
During the July hearing a prosecutor asked Hwang if any of the money supposed to be used for research wound up in his personal bank accounts. Hwang did not deny that this happened and said, "I did have the money managed separately."
Hwang previously admitted that he used some of the money meant for research to clone tigers, pay for housing for a junior scientist, pay for a wedding for a colleague, and fund overseas trips for members of his research team.
He also indicated he deposited research funds into bank accounts under the names of colleagues and frequently withdrew large sums of money and put it in suitcases and took it to undisclosed locations.
"Some of it had to go to uses of a highly classified nature," he said at the time.
In February, South Korea’s Board of Audit and Inspection said millions of dollars were placed in Hwang’s personal bank account that should have been deposited for research.
Prosecutor Lee In-kyu also said Hwang embezzled $900,000 in private and government donations to the research. After getting more than $35 billion in research funds from the government and private donors, South Korean prosecutors say Hwang misused much of the money by laundering it through 63 bank accounts set up under false names.
Lee indicated Hwang’s team also paid for human eggs for research, which is a violation of the nation’s bioethics laws.
Hwang and his team "indelibly hurt the people as well as the families and patients of hard-to-cure diseases," Lee said. "Some scientists abused the people’s high expectations and a lack of peer reviews and disregarded ethics of research to attain their own goals."
Hwang and others indicted on the charges could spend up to 10 years in prison and another three years for violating bioethics laws about obtaining human eggs for research.
According to a Reuters report, Hwang took the stand for 30 minutes Tuesday to answer questions and the next hearing in the case is set for December 12.
Hwang and his research team came under international scrutiny when it was revealed that they fabricated the entirety of their human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
He has set up a private lab where he is engaging in animal cloning experiments.